Professional communications coach, Helga Schmidt, specialises in business etiquette and trains new coaches in the field. In a short interview, she provided insight into the complexity of office behaviour.
Where are most behaviour-related mistakes made in the office?
The largest number of offences and the most serious are committed at work parties, when alcohol comes into play. In minor cases in Germany, work colleagues offer each other the informal “du” form and regret embarrassing themselves the next day, creating a bad atmosphere at work.
How do I address a superior/my boss in an email?
Greetings like “Hi” and “Hey” are widespread but remain inappropriate for addressing your boss. They are far too personal and detract from professionalism. Generally speaking, the company manager did not climb to their position by using such salutations, either. No, I prefer “Dear”, “Good morning” or “Good day”.
What about eating in the office?
Eating a sandwich in the office is not appropriate. Despite this, many offices simply do not offer an alternative. In these cases, eating in the office is okay after clarification with your supervisor. Be carful that your meal does not become an annoyance for colleagues through a crackling chocolate bar wrapper, for example. Common courtesy applies. This includes washing your hands before and after a meal.
What else is important in good office manners?
If you are working in an open-plan office, you must not talk loudly on the telephone nor hold too many private conversations with colleagues. In a large office space, it is important to be considerate. If you want something from a colleague, don’t shout across the office. If you need somebody, go and find them. If a customer or business partner calls, answer the telephone with an appropriate greeting (e.g. “Hello” or “Good morning”), your first name, last name and organisation. If a stranger or a customer enters the office, stand up and acknowledge them politely.
Office etiquette is clearly a large field and it is strewn with pitfalls. But proper manners are not everything. With a positive attitude and friendly manner, even the odd breach of office protocol will be forgiven. For, in the Dalai Lama’s words, it is necessary to “Learn the rules so you know how to break them properly”.